13th January 2022

The decisive bridge to the ERC

European Research Council funds Aventis Foundation Life Sciences Bridge Award winners Prof. Dr. Dominik Niopek and Prof. Dr. Daniel Merk.

The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded 619 million euros to young scientists from all over Europe. 4,000 researchers from all disciplines have applied for the “ERC Starting Grants 2021“, the first call under the European research program “Horizon Europe”. Among the 397 winners are two winners of the Aventis Foundation Life Sciences Bridge Award: Prof. Dr. Dominik Niopek and Prof. Dr. Daniel Merk. 

ERC has selected Dominik Niopek (assistant professor in the Department of Biology at TU Darmstadt) and his project “DaVinci Switches” (Designing Allosteric Protein Switches by In Vivo Directed Evolution and Computational Inference), which is being funded with around 1.6 million euros. In his project Niopek is working on new methods to engineer switchable proteins in a targeted, time- and cost-saving manner. The vision of the “DaVinci Switches” ERC project is to develop informative computer models and complementary laboratory methods for the design of switchable proteins controllable via external stimuli. For this, Niopek’s team will combine methods for directed protein evolution in the laboratory with high-throughput screening approaches and artificial intelligence. Read more

“The Life Sciences Bridge Award was the decisive bridge to the ERC for me. During the first few months at TU Darmstadt, I used considerable amounts of the prize money to carry out costly and risky experiments directly for the application that I would not have “allowed” myself to do without the award,” says Dominik Niopek, winner of the “Life Sciences Bridge Award 2020“. 

Prof. Dr. Daniel Merk – Life Sciences Bridge Award Winner 2019 – is Chair of Pharmaceutical and Medicinal Chemistry at LMU. His main research areas are the targeted modulation of transcription factors using small molecules and the application of artificial intelligence (AI) for molecular design. Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis are severe health burdens for patients and major global challenges for societies. No treatment strategy has yet been developed that can halt or reverse the progress of neurodegeneration. As such, new therapeutic approaches are needed more than ever, but they are hindered by the lack of suitable, pharmacologically validated targets. It is exactly this gap that Merk aims to close with the ERC funded project NeuRoPROBE. Read more

The Aventis Foundation wants to provide individual support to talented researchers, enable them to conduct their own independent research and encourage them to pursue bold and unconventional ideas.

We wish our two award winners continued success!

© Tobias Schwerdt © Uwe Dettmar